Top free activities to do in the Algarve
Golden beaches, historic lighthouses and breathtaking cliffs: the Algarve has one of the most enchanting coastlines in Portugal.
It also has unparalleled highs in summer, both in temperatures and accommodation prices. However, there are plenty of ways to save, even when traveling during peak season. In fact, some of the best experiences in this captivating corner of Portugal won’t cost you a penny.
Here’s our guide to the best free things to see and do in the Algarve.
Join the fun at a free festival
The Algarve hosts free events and festivals throughout the year, and it’s worth timing your visit to see the region at its best. Food plays a prominent role in many gatherings, including the Portimão Street Food Festival which is held every August. At this annual event, you can taste unique dishes created by renowned chefs, including some Michelin winners.
Step back in time in the old quarter of Tavira
It’s easy to feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you wander the cobbled lanes of Tavira. As you stroll through this peaceful river town, you’ll pass the Ponte Romana (Roman Bridge) – a remnant of the Roman presence here that was rebuilt in the 17th century. Tavira also has Renaissance churches and a large square where the Romans, Islamic peoples and medieval Portuguese took turns holding large markets. For the best view of the city, climb to the garden-lined Castelo, a defensive post used by the Phoenicians in the 8th century BCE. Then, join the modern world at a well-placed cafe overlooking the Rio Gilão.
Walk along the cliffs of Cabo de São Vicente
Feel the wind on your cheeks as you watch the waves lap against the rocks far below. A walk along this dramatic promontory past a red-topped lighthouse offers fabulous views – and bragging rights too. You find yourself at the most south-western point of Europe: the perfect place to contemplate Portugal’s maritime past when navigators in search of fame set out in search of foreign lands to colonize. Come in the late afternoon for the most memorable views as the sun sinks into the Atlantic.
Go to the beach along the coast from Lagos
Grab your beach towel, apply sunscreen and head to some of the most beautiful beaches in Portugal. Oh, and don’t forget your walking shoes: these sunny stretches of sand are best reached on foot from Lagos. Heading south, you’ll walk inviting Praia de Batata, then walk through a rocky tunnel to the thinner crowds of Praia dos Estudantes. The view just gets better as you continue towards Praia do Pinhão, which is backed by high cliffs, and Praia de Dona Ana, located in a picturesque little cove.
If you are not ready to stop, you can continue and visit other beautiful beaches, including Praia da Balança, off the beaten track, accessible by a hike in a narrow ravine. The Ponta de Piedade, a spectacular viewpoint and one of the most beautiful places in the Algarve to admire the sunset, is a good highlight of the day’s walk (about 3 km each way from Lagos).
Browse the stalls of Olhão market
Anchoring Olhão’s picturesque waterfront, two huge red-brick buildings with symmetrical turrets showcase some of the Algarve’s finest produce. The east building (on the left as you face the water) houses the largest fish market in the Algarve, while the west building (right side) houses a significant number of fruit and vegetable stalls. It’s sheer sensory overload to browse through the vendors’ many produce, and if you have access to a kitchen, you won’t find better, fresher or cheaper seafood in the Algarve.
The best time to visit is on Saturday, when small producers, bakers and artisans set up shop on the cobbles outside the market. Grab a picnic, then take the nearby ferry to the peaceful island of Armona to enjoy a seaside lunch on the beach.
Get a deeper insight into the Algarve on a free walking tour in Faro
Faro’s Cidade Velha (Old Town) is one of the most fascinating historical areas in the Algarve, and it’s a great place to learn about the key events that shaped the Algarve. On a two-hour guided walking tour through the narrow lanes, you’ll learn details of foreign conquests, a devastating 18th-century earthquake, and gruesome shrines (like the Bone Chapel), while also covering ecology and biologically rich wetlands just outside of town. The price of all this? Zero – although tips are greatly appreciated.
Dig your heels into the sand on a car-free island near Tavira
Wonderfully undeveloped, Ilha de Tavira feels like a remote slice of the tropics resting on the edge of Europe. Wide stretches of sand inspire long walks, and with 11 km (6.8 mi) of beachfront, you won’t run out of space. You can get there by cheap ferry from Tavira, or you can go up from the Pedras wharf of El Rei by mini train (tourist comboio) reused by the fishing industry. You can also walk there from Pedras d’El Rei (1.5 km walk from the beach), with views of the wetlands along the way.
Look for flamingos and herons on the Ludo trail
The lagoons, creeks and salt marshes of the Ria Formosa Natural Park attract an impressive variety of birds, especially during spring and fall migrations. You can take an organized tour here, or you can see the reserve for free by visiting on your own. On the 3 km (1.8 mile) long and straight Ludo trail, you may spot spoonbills, herons, black-winged stilts or even flocks of flamingos in the middle of the marshy coast near Faro, with trail access 8 km (5 mi) west of town. We recommend going green (and increasing your chances of encountering wildlife) by cycling there. Then you can pedal to nearby Praia de Faro for a refreshing swim off the beach.
Admire the view from the highest point in the Algarve
When you need a break from the heat or just want to see what the Algarve hinterland is like, head to Monchique. Situated above the coast, this pleasant village is the gateway to many scenic walks in the surrounding highlands of the Serra de Monchique. Start early for the 11 km (6.8 mi) round-trip hike through fragrant eucalyptus and cork oaks to the summit of Fóia, the highest peak in the Algarve at 902 m (2,960 ft). From the top, you will have a magnificent view of the rolling hinterland, the coast dotted with villages and the deep blue of the Atlantic beyond.
Enjoy beach or waterfall activities with the family
If you’re traveling as a family, you don’t have to spend a lot to entertain the kids. Free activities like building sandcastles on the beach and frolicking in the waves are hard to top, especially on quieter beaches like Praia Grande in Ferragudo. You can also find adventures just inland, like the short hike (good shoes recommended) to Cascata do Pego do Inferno, a waterfall and natural pool located 8 km (5 mi) to the northwest from Tavira. Bring a picnic and make a day of it.